A Perfect Day After Landing At North America’s Best Airport

An airport with just one terminal, no tram, zero VIP lounges and woeful public transportation options is the best in North America, according to the Airport Council International. Last week, Indianapolis International Airport beat out every other large facility on the continent for the top Air Service Quality award for 2012. The results are based on passenger satisfaction, and IND won for the second time since opening in 2008.

If you’re scratching your head, that means you’ve never been to IND. The first thing you notice upon landing is that the architects didn’t stop designing at the back of the terminal. Most airports greet arrivals with a cluttered mess. IND makes a striking first impression with a towering, glassed-in terminal overlooking the tarmac.

Inside, the space is contemporary, bright and calm. The layout is so intuitive that you rarely look for signage. You can see outside from every spot except the restrooms. Many of the restaurants are satellites of better local independents. There’s none of that stale, claustrophobic, generic feeling common to airports, nor is the scale so massive that the place feels deserted.

If you’re renting a car, you don’t need to board a van or shuttle – all of the vehicles are parked in the adjacent garage. You get in and out of the airport quickly and see some bold art installations along the way.

But even gorgeous airports never transcend their function. At best, they manage not to ruin a trip. So after landing at the continent’s best airport, then what?

Indy is in the midst of an urban renaissance, and you don’t see it coming. I’m a local, and here’s how I show off my town to guests.

%Gallery-183028%Walk or bike the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a brand-new, $63 million path. While most recreation trails lead out of town, where people can exercise on a stretch unbroken for miles, Indy’s does the opposite – the pretty promenade laces through the heart of downtown, replacing 8 miles of sidewalks. It passes every major attraction and cuts through every neighborhood.

You can rent wheels at the Indy Bike Hub and spend two hours getting an overview of the city from a bike seat. The trail connects to another one that runs along the back wall of the Indianapolis Zoo, and sometimes the animals make themselves heard. Make pit stops at the Central Library for the best view of the city from the sixth floor, and at the NCAA Hall of Champions museum, kicking off the 75th anniversary celebration of March Madness this month.

Ride to Fountain Square, Indy’s hipster core, and find the special stoplight for bike traffic. Stretch your legs by getting lost inside the Murphy Building, a loveable shantytown of small art galleries and studios. Make sure to find People for Urban Progress‘s quarters and buy the best souvenir in town: tote bags, iPad cases and wallets made from either salvaged Super Bowl signs (right) or the fabric roof of the city’s former football stadium.

Have lunch on up-and-coming Virginia Avenue, which connects Fountain Square to downtown. Go locavore gourmet at Bluebeard (below), a hot new restaurant that pays tribute to native son Kurt Vonnegut, or street Mexican at Tortas Guicho Dominguez y El Cubanito.

Next, it’s on to Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500 in May. An influx of European racing teams has added a stylish subculture to the gritty town. At the new Dallara IndyCar Factory, sign up for a ride in a real open-wheel racecar – it costs only $30 for a spin through city streets, which is a bargain compared to the $499 ride on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself.

If there’s no time to tour the state-of-the-art factory and try out the racing simulators, at least get espresso at Lino’s Coffee, an Italian import inside the building. You might find yourself in line behind a former Indy 500 champ.

Not far away is the Indianapolis Museum of Art, one of the 10 largest encyclopedic art museums in the country. In the last few years, the IMA has built a significant contemporary art collection; the curator represented the U.S. at the 2011 Venice Bienniele, a huge honor in the field. A big part of the renaissance is 100 Acres (below), a new contemporary sculpture park on the museum grounds. Here, installations are integrated into woods, meadows, and lake. You’ve never seen a fishing pier like the one here. It’s hard to believe that admission to both the park and museum is free. Like I said, you don’t see it coming.

[Photo credits: Airport exterior, Graeme Sharpe via Flickr; airport window, Askpang via Flickr; bikers, courtesy Indianapolis Cultural Trail; tote bag, courtesy People for Urban Progress; restaurant, courtesy Bluebeard; 100 Acres, from top: courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art; The.Urbanophile via Flickr]

NYC Tourism Campaign Spotlights The City’s Lesser-Known Attractions

More than 52 million people visit New York City each year but the vast majority of visitors never stray far from the well-trodden streets of Manhattan. Now, a new tourism initiative is encouraging travelers to take a bigger bite out of the Big Apple by venturing out of the typical tourist hotspots and deep into the city’s five boroughs.

Neighborhood X Neighborhood” will give visitors a list of suggestions on things to do and see ranging from popular tourist activities to hidden gems that only the locals know about. The city’s vast array of restaurants, shops and cultural venues will all be spotlighted in the campaign.

The city’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, says previous efforts to widen the tourist circuit have stimulated development in the neighborhoods. In recent years, more than 70 hotels have sprung up outside Manhattan, catering to visitors who want to get off the beaten path.”We’ve focused on bringing more tourists to neighborhoods outside of Manhattan, and it’s paid off with more hotels being built and tourism-related economic activity happening in those boroughs,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Our neighborhoods are what make New York City unique, and visitors who explore the boroughs beyond the beaten path are sure to be rewarded with unforgettable, only-in-New-York experiences.”

NYC’s neighborhoods are all easily accessible via the city’s extensive transit system and campaign organizers say travelers who veer out of Manhattan and into the more obscure neighborhoods will be rewarded with a more affordable stay.

Bushwick, Fort Greene and Williamsburg are the first neighborhoods to be featured in the tourism initiative, which kicks off today. You can check out the neighborhood highlights here.

[Photo credit: NYC & Company]

A Traveler’s Confession: I Hate Sightseeing

touristsI love to travel but I hate to see the sights. Have you ever found yourself running around looking for obscure museums and other tourist attractions while on a trip and wondered what the point was? I prefer to spend my travel time on the road the same way I enjoy my leisure time at home: wandering around, meeting people and indulging my curiosity when I stumble upon something of interest.

Depending on who your travel companion is, it might be a struggle to avoid sightseeing. My wife, for example, is much better at sightseeing than I am. I enjoy museums, but I prefer strolling through, stopping to read only the most interesting exhibits. She, on the other hand, is often quite content to read every word on every plaque in the entire place while I roam around looking for a bench and a newspaper to pass the time.


neapolitan pizzaOur biggest tourism incompatibility, though, is our divergence on archaeological sites. I’m more of a history buff than my wife is. In fact, I like to read history books and, with some rare exceptions, she does not. But I hate schlepping around archeological sites and she loves it. These places, by their nature, lack shade and somehow it always seems to be 100 degrees when you visit them. I’m not ashamed to admit that when given the choice between visiting Pompeii this summer and eating at the world’s best pizzeria in Naples, I chose the pizza and I don’t regret it. (I can read a book or watch a documentary on Pompeii, but reading about pizza isn’t the same)

My worst nightmare is being part of a guided tour where I’m herded around and lectured. If the guide is outstanding, it’s barely tolerable for me, but most of the time I’m looking at my watch or searching for an emergency exit I can slip out of. If the attraction only offers guided tours, I’m most likely to give it a pass. I’d much rather look around on my own and have a guidebook or brochure I can read at my leisure. For me, travel is all about freedom and having to abide by someone else’s schedule and tastes is not my cup of tea.

I’ve been to London twice in the last decade. On the first trip, I ran around like a mad dog visiting all the “must do” sights listed in my guidebook and, while I enjoyed many of the attractions, I felt tired and ready to go home after three or four days of hardcore sightseeing. I went back in August of this year on another four-day visit but this time I made a point of visiting just one real tourist attraction-the British Museum. The rest of the time I just picked a neighborhood that sounded interesting, took the tube there and wandered around.

londonIf I saw something of interest, I went in, but I wasn’t out searching for specific attractions. I spent a lot of time walking on quiet, residential side streets, taking the pulse of the city and its residents. It was a stark contrast to my previous visit because when you “see the sights” in any city, you’re surrounded by fellow travelers, who know little about the place you are trying to digest.

I enjoyed my second, non-sightseeing trip to London infinitely more than the first and by the end of the four days, I wanted more, not less of London. I’m not suggesting that people visit Cairo and skip the pyramids or travel to China and pass on the Great Wall, but if you just run around from one tourist attraction to the next, you won’t get much of a flavor of what a place is really like. Take my advice and don’t obsess over seeing the sights. You’ll save some money and you might have a better time too.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

Warsaw, Poland: an up-and-coming European museum destination

European museum destination
As an EU member with a good exchange rate and low prices, Poland is becoming a popular tourist destination in Eastern Europe. Most of the love goes to Krakow, with its original architecture and “new Prague” charm, but capital city Warsaw has plenty to offer as a European museum destination. While much of the old town was leveled in World War II, the restorations have been painstakingly done and the tumultuous history makes for a great basis for museum exhibitions.

Like Berlin, Warsaw has embraced its past and given the visitor plenty to learn from and new investments mean state-of-the-art attractions and exhibitions.

Given all of the places to see, Warsaw could easily fill a week (or two) on a Europe trip. Here’s a look at some of Warsaw’s best museums.
Only-in-Warsaw

Warsaw (Up)Rising Museum – Warsaw’s proudest museum is a hi-tech interactive experience detailing the events of the two-month rebellion of the Polish people against the German forces as well as what preceded and followed. It borders on being overly comprehensive, the hundreds of artifacts can overwhelm, as can the crowds who line up daily. Be sure to follow museum signs as you walk through, as the chronological exhibit doesn’t necessarily follow the logical path.

Gestapo Headquarters and Pawiak Prison – Two of the city’s most unassuming buildings were once the most feared. Not as flashy as the Rising Museum but equally effective, the former Gestapo HQ contains a few stark cells that once held prisoners to be interrogated and often tortured before being taken to the prison, along with very professionally-done interactive displays telling the experiences of the poor souls held there. Most of the prison in the former Jewish ghetto has been destroyed, but dozens of artifacts and exhibits explain the prisoners’ conditions and attempt to describe the horrors that happened there.


Fryderyk Chopin Museum – Another hi-tech, multimedia extravaganza, this brand new space dedicated to Poland’s most famous composer goes beyond the usual exhibition with a fully customizable experience. Sample sounds from a rare score, read letters to the important women in Chopin’s life, and see a recreation of his Paris drawing room.

Palace of Culture and Science – Not so much a museum as a gift Warsaw can’t hide away, the tallest building in Poland was a gift from Joseph Stalin and it’s hard to go anywhere in the city without seeing the Soviet beast. Though the building is enormous, not much of it is open to the public. It’s worth a trip to the terrace for panoramic city views (see above photo) or spend an afternoon making sense of the bizarrely curated Museum of Technology.

Want more history? There are also museums dedicated to the Polish People’s Movement and Polish Independence, plus the many churches and monuments of the restored Old City and Krakowskie Przedmiescie street. Warsaw’s Jewish culture is also well-documented at the new Jewish Museum and Wola district historical museum.

Well-done in Warsaw


Center for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle – A few blocks away from the Gestapo Headquarters, the building has a history as a royal residence, medical hospital, and now modern art museum. Some of the most innovative artists in Poland and Europe are showcased here: November saw a show focused on Internet-shaped culture such as a scrolling display of Twitter results for the phrase “Best day ever.”


Warsaw Zoo – In addition to being a nicely-maintained habitat for animals, this zoo has a fascinating and heroic past. Diane Ackerman’s book The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the story of the zoo director who aided in war efforts and saved many Jewish Poles from the Nazis by hiding them in the animal cages.


Royal Castle and Wilanow Palace – Just outside the Old City, the Royal Castle was also rebuilt from scratch and houses a slew of antiques and artwork, as well as excellent temporary exhibitions such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and other treasures from other museums. If you visit in good weather, it’s worth a day out of town to visit the grand Wilanow Palace and gardens, the Polish Versailles.

Not exhausted yet? Small museums also specialize in collections of cars, trains, military weaponry, horse-riding, caricatures, and Polish physicist Marie Curie. See the In Your Pocket Warsaw guide for more info.


Weekending: Bodrum/Greece


As an expat in Istanbul, I am very fortunate to have awesome opportunities for short trips around Europe and the Middle East. My previous weekend jaunt was to Beirut, Lebanon. Though the current 90+ degree weather is ruling out a lot of domestic travel for now, for my next getaway, I made like the locals and headed south to the beach.

The place: Bodrum, Turkey

The Bodrum peninsula fancies itself the Turkish Riviera, though the town proper feels a bit more like the Jersey Shore, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Bodrum coast (like the Jersey Shore) has great beaches and fun nightlife, though it lacks the sophistication of other European beach towns and the coastline is getting more developed each season. Still, there’s charm left in Bodrum town, beautiful castle and harbor views, and easy boat access to more secluded spots in Turkey and even Greece. Big and boutique resorts with private beaches (many of them jetties) line the sea though you may have to rent a car or rely on taxis and dolmuses (minibuses) to get around. As we wanted to stay in a walkable area with restaurants nearby, we chose the Su Hotel in town, on a quiet street close to the harbor, with a good-sized pool and friendly service.
%Gallery-99196%Upgrades

  • Water is the big draw to Bodrum, though the town itself has only a few small strips of beach, with most of the beach clubs and resorts in neighboring towns like Bitez and Gümbet. The few town beaches are small but serviceable, as well as convenient and most often free, though you may be obliged to buy a drink from one of the adjoining cafes. If you’re after the wide, sandy beach experience, you’re better off in a resort outside of town or taking day trips.
  • Hop on a boat and be in Greece in an hour. From the ferry, you can walk to a beach where 5 euro will get you two chairs, some bottled water, and an umbrella. Pleasant Kos Town doesn’t have a wealth of tourist attractions, but does remind you how NOT European Turkey is, if only for the good wine, availability of pork, and sensible city planning. Alternatively, boat trips are offered all over town to nearby islands and coves in Turkey.

Downgrades

  • While sometimes it’s pleasant to visit a foreigner-friendly city where English is widely spoken and familiar foods are available, after seeing the third cafe in a row serving a full English breakfast, Bodrum’s popularity with Brits and Australians becomes overwhelming and almost demoralizing. I happened to be in town during the England-Germany World Cup match, and the English loss could be heard up and down the streets. On the plus side, a nice book market on Cumhuriyet Caddesi towards the east end sells English books for as little as 5 TL.
  • You don’t come to Bodrum for sightseeing, but the main attractions can still be a little disappointing. The Castle of St. Peter holds the Museum of Underwater Archaeology (admittedly, I hoped it would actually BE underwater) and while the views from the castle are spectacular and several of the exhibits are interesting, the highlights (the cool-sounding Glass Shipwreck and remains of a Carian princess) are only open Tuesday – Friday. Imagine if New York’s Met Museum closed the Temple of Dendur on weekends or the Louvre limited days to see the Mona Lisa?! Likewise, the Mausoleum might have once been one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but not much of it remains.

Getting there

Bodrum is an hour flight from Istanbul, with sporadic direct flights from continental Europe in season. The airport is 60 kilometers from town and a pricey 90 TL taxi ride, but a shuttle bus connects with domestic flights for 17 TL. If you have early or late flights, be sure to factor in the round-trip taxi fare to the cost of your travel. Ferries depart for Kos (also Rhodes) in the morning and return late afternoon for around 55 TL.

Make it a week

Get your bearings in Bodrum town and then sail a gulet yacht for a cruise along the Aegean. Booking a cabin will cost from 400 euro per person including meals (but not alcohol), crew, fuel, and taxes for a week, chartering the whole yacht can run thousands of euro but can work for a group of friends or family. Do your homework and shop around; Turkey Travel Planner is a good primer.